You might be one of the adoring fans of the 2004 BBC miniseries, North & South, the story of the Hale family, as they move themselves from the pastoral south of England to the grimy, industrial north.The television production is adapted from the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell.
In case you’ve missed both the book and the TV show, let me catch you up on things:
The story centers on Margaret Hale. Her vicar father suffers a crisis of conscience and gives up his post. On the suggestion of a family friend, he moves the family to the city of Milton, where they find themselves in the middle of unhappy cotton mill workers. Walking in the city one day, Margaret lands in a scene of “infuriated men and reckless boys.” The boys are ready to take off their clogs and throw them at Mr. Thornton, a factory owner.
The Thorntons and the Hales fraternize, being of nearly the same class. Naturally, Mr. Thorton and Margaret meet. Naturally, they can’t stand each other.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Hale’s health fails her. Is it the dirty Milton air? Or is it heartbreak over a son who is banished from England?
The screenwriters, actors and set decorators took what must have been a beloved though long-winded novel and packaged it for a modern viewing audience.
In the book, we know the father doubts his religion.
In the show, they sharpen his crisis with more gossip and down-your-nose looks from the Miltoners.
In the book, Margaret whisks about, ceaselessly doing good.
In the show, she blunders through social calls and afternoon teas, slow to catch on to Milton’s manners.
In the book, nobody can say the simplest things like “The Thorntons are coming to dinner? I’m not sure we can stand that.” No, the conversation got so weighty, I wondered how even top-drawer actors could pull it off.
In the show, the screenwriters ditched all that speechiness and replaced it with dialogue that gets the job done, but still sounds charming.
Of course, movie makers have tools that novelists don’t. With due respect to Gaskell’s storytelling, she didn’t have an actress with big, expressive eyes and a smart little hat pinned to her head. Nor did she have wisps of cotton floating everywhere in the factory, moodified by a mourning cello.
Both the book and the mini-series belong on your bucket list, in my opinion. Who wouldn’t want to meet these universally recognizable characters?:
–A father so caught up in his studiousness that he fails to see the rest of the family suffering from his decisions.
–A mother who slightly regrets the marriage she made.
–A servant who relishes the family secrets and believes she’s the engine that keeps things running.
–And, of course, an eligible young Margaret, juggling suitors and missing all the perfection she left behind in the south of England.
The potatoes and sauce cook sequentially in the microwave.
The toughest thing about the yummy stove-top broccoli was opening the jar of pimentos. I had to call for help on that one.
And it hardly seems fair to call that bowl of fruit a “salad.” With an entire can of peach pie filling in there, it should appeal to the Froot Loops fans in your family. (Although I cheated and used apple pie filling. What’s the matter with my Kroger store?)